The use of salt marsh for agricultural use has probably been going on for thousands of years. This paper will look at the situation in southeast England, particularly the Wash. Here enclosure for extended grazing and over the last several hundred years, for arable cultivation, may have taken place since Roman Times. An enclosure of Freiston Shore salt marsh (1979) and a proposed further enclosure at Gedney Drove End at about the same time raised concerns about the cumulative effect of these developments on nature conservation interests. These concerns prompted the nature conservation agencies to oppose the Gedney Drove End enclosure.
Though the conservation argument did not persuade the Government that no further enclosure should take place, economic circumstances changed such that the pressure for the creation of new agricultural land diminished. This marked the end of ‘reclamation’ in the Wash. Since then, in the UK at least, there have been no further enclosures of salt marsh for agriculture.
What were the arguments that lead to this change? Up to this point the perceived wisdom, in the Wash at least, was that as enclosure took place new inter-tidal land was created to seaward – with no net loss of inter-tidal land. Today we accept that this is not the case and a policy of managed re-alignment has increasingly been adopted in England, at sites ranging from the Porlock shingle ridge in north Devon to the salt marshes of Freiston in the Wash.
It is argued that recognition of ‘coastal squeeze’ probably began in the Wash some 20 years ago. It would appear that we are now witnessing a reversal of this trend. How far will it take us? Will we see a return of the large expanses of tidal swamp around the Wash and elsewhere along the southern North Sea coast? Is this an inevitable consequence of global warming?
This paper provides an historical perspective of the issues and arguments that have led us to recognize ‘coastal squeeze’ and the importance of dynamic coasts, including the European Commission's ‘EURosion Project’, which reported in 2004 (Salman et al. 2004).